Steelers O-line jelling under Zierlein

Last year, the Steelers' offensive line was far from a cohesive unit. But that's changing this year under the direction of a coach who's commanding the players' respect.

PITTSBURGH – The NFL yesterday changed the Steelers' statistics from Sunday's game in Cleveland, and the result is one fewer sack allowed by the offensive line and one more reception for Ben Roethlisberger, who's now caught one pass in his career for minus seven yards.

This didn't faze Roethlisberger one way or another, but it pleased Larry Zierlein and his offensive linemen. They've become a bit gun shy about sack totals since Roethlisberger went down 53 times in 17 games last season.

Last season, of course, was Zierlein's first as the Steelers' offensive line coach, and the line performed poorly enough to cause fans to wonder why he was kept for a second year. When Willie Colon implied at the start of training camp that Alan Faneca resisted the changes put forth by Zierlein, it was the coach, not the players, who became scrutinized even further.

But after two games this season, the Steelers' offensive line is jelling under Zierlein. The loss of Faneca has been overcome by the mauling performances of Chris Kemoeatu. Also, the acquisition of Justin Hartwig has improved the center position; Marvel Smith's healthy; Willie Colon has made a natural progression in his second year as a starter; and Kendall Simmons is playing solid ball.

Once considered the Achilles' heel of an otherwise contending team, the offensive line has been a well-oiled machine. And if Willie Parker would hit the hole more consistently, and Roethlisberger would get rid of the ball a bit quicker (and stop bouncing passes to himself off opposing helmets), the line might actually receive some respect around town.

"In the second year with Z," Simmons said of his coach, "everybody understands what we need to do. His way of doing things, techniques, and stuff like that, have gotten tremendously better and I think that made a big difference."

Have Zierlein's techniques gotten better? Or is everybody listening?

"You had to be in the room," Simmons said of last year's alleged leadership tussle. "It wasn't as bad as people are making it out to be. Coach Zierlein didn't want to come in his first year and rock the ship, and I think it was the same with Coach (Mike) Tomlin. Now (Zierlein)'s, ‘OK, this is how we're going to do it.' It's better, and I think we're going to continue to get better if we keep doing what we're supposed to be doing. And, if we keep people healthy."

Colon, the right tackle, implied that the 2007 leadership was a problem on the first day of the 2008 training camp when he said, "Alan's gone … Coach Z is the boss now."

Yesterday, Colon clarified the remark. "Z couldn't come in there and just change what accomplished guys have been doing for so long," he said. "That's the only thing I meant by that. I didn't mean to imply that Alan was holding us back from being a great line."

Colon emphasized that Faneca was a great leader who was only doing his best to win games, but problems arose from "a lack of chemistry with Z being new, not knowing who he was as a coach. It was a matter of trying to figure out what was going on with us. It added a little more fire to it with Alan being in his last year."

It was Colon's first season as the full-time starter and he called it "a thunderstorm" because "there were so many things going on in that room, it did wear on us at times."

And now?

"It's more relaxing in that Z just says, ‘We're going to let it fly. We're not going to hold back anything,'" said Colon. "His motto is "It's going to be my way, and if you guys just believe in me we're going to have fun.' So guys started believing. And we're having fun."

NOTES -- Steelers defensive captain James Farrior was fined $7,500 by the league for making an obscene gesture to Cleveland fans who were celebrating a minor injury to Ryan Clark during Sunday night's game. ... Troy Polamalu was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week by GMC Sierra, the firm that in the first week honored LaMarr Woodley of the Steelers. ... CB Deshea Townsend (heel) missed his second practice of the week. He's hopeful of practicing Friday and playing Sunday in Philadelphia. ... The Eagles' starting center and right guard, Jamaal Jackson (non-injury) and Shawn Andrews (back), each missed their second practice of the week.

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